Science of Parenting: Good Parenting

June 1, 2011, 8:36 am | Douglas Gentile, Kimberly Greder, Laura Sternweis

AMES, Iowa -- What makes effective parenting? It’s more than good intentions. Iowa State University Extension examines how parenting style makes a difference in rearing responsible, competent children in this month’s Science of Parenting radio program podcast.

“We’re all trying to be good parents, but we do know from research that some strategies behind parenting lead to healthier outcomes for children than other strategies,” says Kimberly Greder, an extension specialist and associate professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State. These strategies or styles of parenting are distinct and based on the expectations that parents have upon their children and the warmth of the parent-child relationship.

Greder discusses four styles of parenting with Science of Parenting program host Douglas Gentile, an ISU Extension specialist and associate professor of psychology, and co-host Mike Murray, who brings the “parent-on-the-street perspective” to the program.

  • Authoritative parenting: In this parenting style, parents have high expectations for their children, but also show a lot of warmth. Parents communicate to their children what they expect of them and why, are willing to listen to their children and try to understand their point of view. Parents may change their viewpoint if they think doing so is in their children’s best interests. This is not “giving in”; rather, parents are willing to negotiate when it makes sense. Sometimes this style is called democratic parenting.
  • Authoritarian parenting: In this parenting style, parents have high expectations and show little warmth to their children. They have rules and they expect their kids to do what they say. They don’t expect kids to question them, because parents know best.
  • Permissive parenting: Permissive parents want a warm relationship with their children, but don’t have specific expectations for their children. They tend not to set clear rules or goals for their children or tell them what to do.
  • Uninvolved parenting: Uninvolved parents don’t communicate expectations to their children or show much warmth. Children don’t sense any direction from this type of parenting. Sometimes this style is called neglectful parenting.

What’s best for kids?

The authoritative parenting style has been proven to have the healthiest child outcomes, even across cultures and across ages of children, Greder said. Long-term studies show that the authoritative parenting style is more likely to result in children who are responsible, competent and have high self-esteem.

Be consistent

“Most parents don’t follow one style all the time. They fluctuate across one, two or even three styles, but people tend to have a predominant style,” Greder said. “The predominant style leads to the long-term effect on the children. Try to be consistent in parenting your children, so they know what to expect from you.”

Consistency between adults matters too. When more than one adult is highly involved in parenting children and the adults have different parenting styles, children get confused and have a tougher time growing up, Greder said.

The adults should agree on key rules for running the household. If they don’t agree on an issue, they still have to come to a common understanding so that they give consistent messages to the children. If messages aren’t consistent, children will tend to listen to the parent who is more fun, and may pit one parent against the other, Greder said.

“Parenting is a learned experience and is learned in many ways. So talk to other parents, watch other parents, read about parenting, and keep learning,” Greder said.

Download Science of Parenting Podcasts

Science of Parenting podcasts are available for free download from the Science of Parenting website, or can be subscribed to in iTunes. Each month a new, 30-minute Science of Parenting program, as well as previous programs, will be available, as well as blog posts and other research-based parenting information.


About the Authors: